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Looking for Albert Spark...

Hostilities resume as teams battle it out for Melbourne supremacy, reports Khurram Habib.
Hindustan Times | By Khurram Habib, Melbourne
UPDATED ON MAR 15, 2008 02:38 AM IST

Felipe Massa walked out of his Ferrari 612 on Friday only to hear his fans — mostly teenagers attired in flaming red — shout his name at the top of their voices. Nine hours later, Hamilton’s fans surrounded his cool, grey Mercedes as the Briton waved, signed and smiled. “Are you ready to better your last year's performance?” asked an enthusiastic fan.

“Yeah,” he grinned childishly before waltzing out of the Albert Park to his hotel.

Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton topped the practice timings in the first and the second practice sessions respectively, while the team that’s in its debut season, Vijay Mallya’s baby and India’s hope, Force India, had a decent outing too. After an indifferent run during testing earlier in the year, the team finally looks settled just before the start of the season.

“I am nervously excited," said Mallya during a lengthy briefing at the paddock. “There’s no point chasing McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari. They are way ahead. What I am looking for is a mid-field finish.” Mallya also reiterated what he has been saying since he bought the team last year — that a podium finish should not be expected before 2010.

Mallya must have been given a shot in the arm by the results his main driver produced in the practice sessions, especially on a track that was a bit slippery in the beginning. Giancarlo Fisichella, one of the most experienced drivers on the Albert Park circuit, finished ninth in the second free practice session after finishing 12th in the first. However, Adrian Sutil came 17th in both and that leaves him a bit short of the desired qualifying standards.

Most importantly, Fisi seemed to be happy with the new parts and felt it was a good start.

So, Saturday is going to be crucial, not just for qualification but also for obtaining grid positions as they are crucial to the overall result. “It is tough to overtake on this circuit,” said Colin Kolles, Force India’s team principle, after practice. “But I think Fisichella is an experienced driver and you can see the improvement in the team (from Spyker days).”

There have been quite a few mechanical changes, mostly on the aerodynamics front, such as increase in the number of wind tunnels, etc.

“It (the technology) has improved fairly over the past year. It is not just the amount of money but how it is used. You look at Toyota. They have a budget much bigger than ours but they are not doing great,” said Kolles. It was strange that McLaren, who should have been the last team on the paddocks for having lost all the points last season, were placed fifth from top, leaving Force India last.

The McLaren staff said it is because their logistics wouldn’t fit in any other paddocks, so they’ve been given fifth. But, just in case you might infer something else, they are still three places off Ferrari.

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